“In this class, you’ll learn how to narrow your focus and utilize that narrow lens to make your ideas tangible, complex, scriptable.” –Beverly Chukwu
Beverly “Bev” Chukwu is a Nigerian American writer, filmmaker, script consultant, and behavior therapist from Garland, TX. She is an MFA alum of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a fellowship in screenwriting and fiction. Her screenplay, PRINCE OF LAVENDALE STREET, was the feature winner in the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, and an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, OF BROKEN THINGS, was published in Vol. 2 of the I Scream Social Anthology. Bev is a queer writer, who tells stories about assimilation, the allure of groupthink, and characters who struggle with being someone they are not; mental health advocacy for people of the Black diaspora is at the forefront of her work.
On Saturday, February 18th, Beverly Chukwu is teaching a class for the WLT called “Introduction to Screenwriting: From Idea to Script.“ In this class you’ll learn more about how to start the year off with a fresh look at your projects, both ongoing and new.
Here’s what Bev had to share with us:
Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?
Beverly Chukwu: My name is Bev Chigozie Chukwu, and I grew up in Garland, Texas, as part of the Mbaise Association of Dallas, a tight-knit community of Igbo indigenes from the same village as my parents. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, I grew up listening to stories in the exaggerated fashion that came in the form of the broken English I learned from my parents. To this day, I think growing up as an outsider in some ways—I grew up having traditions, customs, and ways of being that were different from those of the people I knew at school—and as someone on the “inside” absolutely influenced my writing. These days, I write grounded sci-fi and horror projects about assimilation, mental health, and the allures of groupthink due to the direct influence of culture on my sense of self-worth and independence.
I came into writing at a very young age because I had trouble speaking. Expressing my emotions often led to criticism or violence (i.e., spankings or some other kind of disciplinary action), so I kept to myself and only really came alive when I read books. Although I couldn’t articulate it when I was younger, a time when my stories were about vampires, presidents’ daughters, and fat camps, I know that books fueled my motivation to live. I wanted to live to write and write to live. Imitating the styles of stories I consumed helped me imagine a future greater than my childhood home, a future where I could keep and break traditions as I pleased.
Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?
BC: I know some writers are averse to structure, but structure, I have found, is the greatest defense against writer’s block. Personally, it’s difficult for me to keep going if I don’t have a sense of direction. Much like a central character has an overarching goal that powers their journey through the narrative, if I have no idea what the general journey is or what worlds he/she/they live in or their relationship to their family or, most importantly, their desires, I get lost.
Outside of structure, I also often turn to “play.” If I have the structure and know my character’s wants and needs but still don’t know what to do, I open a blank document or pull out my white board and I start to play. For example, what if I stopped paying attention to syntax and just wrote the first thing that came to mind. While much of my play is, for lack of a better word, crap, I typically have fun and can always find one thing amongst the “crap” that feels right for me and the story.
Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?
BC: My greatest epiphany was the realization that my best work comes from fear. The ideas that are daunting because they feel too “real” are the ones that I have been most interested in and the most determined to finish.
I was on my billionth draft of my last feature-length screenplay, when I decided to cash in a reading favor from one of my mentors. Our notes call turned into a three-hour “lava” session (re: writer, Meg Lefauve of Inside Out), where he wound up urging me to dig deeper about my intentions for my script. By the end of it, a chord had struck, and I cried. I’d realized I had a fear of digging any deeper. The script had cultural elements that made me wary of making audiences “too uncomfortable.” But letting myself be vulnerable taught me a huge lesson, one that I first heard in therapy: where your fear is, there your task is. The stories that resonate the most for people are the ones that ring painfully true, no matter the genre. That aha! feeling ended quickly after I finished my next draft of that script, mainly because I then had to deal with story problems in another script, but the lesson still stands. Now, when I feel like I’ve landed on a concept that feels right, it’s often because it explores something at the center of my fear.
Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
BC: Listen to your body. Writers are expected to, yes, write, but what fuels the writing is the mind and body. In the same way that we can tell when an activity or nutrient is fueling our body, we can also tell when facets of the project we are working on are not serving us. For example, if you are writing a very personal memoir, but you don’t give yourself the time to create emotional boundaries between yourself and the work, you may find yourself burnt out early, stopping the work before it even has a chance to take flight. Listen to how you react to the different media you consume. Are you more invested in science fiction, but you choose to write high concept dramas because you feel like that’s what you should be writing? Ignoring your consumption habits is a surefire way to create disinterest in your work because that often means you aren’t writing from a place of curiosity; you’re righting from a place of expectation/anxiety.
Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
BC: I can do my best to help you develop the most incredible idea ever, but a great idea isn’t a script. A great idea is like a severed head: absolutely useless without its arms, legs, torso, feet (structure, character, plot, world-building). In this class, you’ll learn how to narrow your focus and utilize that narrow lens to make your ideas tangible, complex, scriptable.
Click here to learn more about Beverly Chukwu’s upcoming class.